Seven Marines from the Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, spent two days hunting teal at a camp north of Welsh with help from Operation Military Embrance, a non-profit military-support charity that provides financial assistance and helps organize events for wounded soldiers. (Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 10:50 PM
The calm atmosphere of a duck hunting camp was a new experience for Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Ray Coffey and a far cry from the combat he faced in Iraq and Afghanistan that left him recovering from several serious injuries.
Coffey, along with six other Marines from Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, spent two days hunting teal at a camp north of Welsh with help from Operation Military Embrace, a nonprofit support charity that provides financial assistance and helps organize events for wounded service members.
Coffey joined the Marines in 1998 and was one of the first groups that deployed to Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He later served two tours in Iraq.
During the second tour he was hit by a roadside bomb. He lost most of the sight in his right eye and has 21 titanium screws in his face, along with artificial cheekbones and teeth.
Despite his injuries, Coffey stayed in Iraq. He later was shot in his right ankle and suffered extensive back injuries after jumping out of a two-story window to avoid a grenade. Today, he said he has difficulty walking and has little short-term memory.
Jerry Reed is the president and executive director of Operation Military Embrace and a Vietnam War veteran. He said the trip helped the soldiers not think as much about the injuries they deal with every day.
“It’s healing for these young men,” Reed said. “It’s good to get them away from the hospital, and they had a blast. They took to it like ducks to water, so to speak.”
Staff Sgt. Phillip McGill said he wants to continue hunting. McGill joined the Marines in 2003 and spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan disarming bombs. He was injured in January when an explosive detonated during a humanitarian mission in Cambodia.
“We were training the Cambodian demining teams and in our off time taking apart explosives we had found to use as training aids,” he said.
The explosion severed a major blood vessel in his left arm, ruptured his spleen and collapsed his left lung. A tourniquet was placed on his arm to stop the bleeding, but it was several hours before McGill underwent emergency surgery. He suffered extensive nerve damage to his left forearm.
“After I was discharged, I had no feeling in my forearm,” he said. “Now, I can actually feel the breeze blowing on my hand. But it could take a year to two years to get all the feeling back.”
McGill said he wants to continue being a bomb technician if he regains the feeling in his arm to perform the job correctly.
District 14 Calcasieu Parish Police Juror Hal McMillin and Reggie Knowles, owner of the private hunting club, accompanied the soldiers during the hunt. McMillin said the experience was a “tremendous opportunity to show them a great part of Southwest Louisiana.”
“These guys put their lives on the line for us and our freedom,” he said.
Like most of the Marines who participated, Coffey said he had never hunted before.
“It’s been a big learning experience for all of us,” he said. “It wasn’t just shooting; it was cleaning the ducks. We learned enough to actually take up the hobby if we ever wanted to.”